Happy Camp History

Happy Camp, California

Happy Camp is located at the top of California in Siskiyou County, deep in the heart of the Klamath National Forest and on the banks of the Klamath River at the confluence of Indian and Elk Creeks.

The people of the Karuk Tribe, meaning “Up river” people, have lived here since before history. In July 1851 a group of prospectors arrived from downriver, prospecting as they came and made camp here. They named the camp “Happy Camp” and that became the name of the town that grew up here. Many other sites of gold discovery became ghost towns, but Happy Camp endured.

Miners at Thompson Creek area later in the 1800’s saw a large, ape-like creature which scared the Chinese miners, so that they wouldn’t go back to work for days. Today modern “Bigfoot” teams camp out and look for the legendary creature with modern technology. If no large apes are found, they’ve at least had a great time camping in the forest.

When mining declined, the lumber industry became the chief occupation. The Klamath National Forest, Happy Camp District, was founded here in 1905. Happy Camp was well known as the “Steelhead Capital of the World!” Fishing and hunting as well as the natural beauty brought visitors, and when the road was completed in 1928 travel became easier

The State of Jefferson Scenic Byway is a memorial to a movement to carve a new state from Oregon and California. Due to the lack of state maintenance of roads and services, a movement to secede from California and Oregon and become the” State of Jefferson” was begun in the 1940’s.This “revolt” was every Thursday but ceased December 7, 1941 with Pearl Harbor when we rejoined our “united” country to help win a war. Mines from the area provided needed resources and the roads were improved to bring them out for the war effort.

When the last large lumber mill, Stone Forest Mill, closed in 1995, the community diversified in small business and recreation opportunities. Visitors and new residents come to escape the congestion of the city for the natural peace of the country life. The government of the Karuk Tribe remains here and provides a great deal of help to all the people of the area. Panning for gold, rafting or kayaking down the Klamath, hiking, biking, backpacking or camping draw many visitors each summer. Viewing wildlife, rock hounding, especially for Happy Camp jade, and a vast array of outdoor family recreation are available. The community is surrounded by wilderness areas: Red Buttes to the east, Siskiyou to the west, Marble Mountains to the south, and Kalmiopsis wilderness and the Oregon Caves to the North in Oregon.

Volunteers from many service and social organizations have a big impact on the community. Hometown festivals, like the Bigfoot Jamboree each Labor Day weekend, provide parades, fun, food and celebrate community values. It’s a friendly little town!

Come and visit, we’d be glad to have you!


  1. Steve Lombardi

    We’re planning a bicycle trip from Ashland to McKinleyville along 96.
    We’re having a little trouble finding listings of lodgings.
    Any suggestions much appreciated.

    – Steve
    San Ramon

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      Linda Jo Martin

      I answered this in email.. but for the record – the local motels are called Forest Lodge (in Happy Camp), Klamath River Resort Inn (two miles east of Happy Camp), and Thompson Creek Lodge (ten miles east of Happy Camp) – they all have websites you can find via Google. Also there are many Forest Service campgrounds alongside Highway 96.

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  2. Kathy

    Hi. Can you pls tell me what the population of Happy Camp was in 1999? Writing an historical piece & need that data. Thanks so much!

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  3. Patrick Dunlap

    One of my favorite spots for camping with our kids was Grider Creek campground, about 10 miles east of Happy Camp. In light of all the fires does it still exist? Who may I call for more info?

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